What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a game of chance where multiple people pay a small amount of money to have a chance to win a large sum of money. It is a form of gambling and a common way for governments to raise funds for projects.

Lottery is a popular pastime for many Americans. According to one study, people spend upward of $100 billion on tickets annually. But how meaningful this revenue is to state budgets and whether the costs to individual citizens are worth it merits scrutiny.

Traditionally, the term “lottery” has been used to describe any arrangement in which prizes are allocated by means of a random process. This includes all games of chance and any system in which payment of a consideration (such as money, work or goods) is made for the chance to receive a prize. Modern examples include military conscription, commercial promotions in which goods or property are given away randomly and the selection of jurors from lists of registered voters.

Lotteries have a long history in Europe and the United States. The Old Testament instructs Moses to take a census of Israel and divide land by lot, and Roman emperors drew lots to give away slaves and property. In colonial America, public lotteries were a common means of raising funds for both private and public projects. In the 1740s, they helped finance Princeton and Columbia Universities; canals and bridges; and public schools, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale and William and Mary.